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Early coal mines at Hamilton

Ray Jordan, Skagit Valley Herald, undated clipping
365 493
(Oxen logging teams)
this was the most usual scene in the Hamilton and upper Skagit area in the time in question. Young and Byers logging camp, in this instance, like Billy Murdock and Winfield Scott Jameson and Heinrich Holtkamp, tending animals of burden that would drag the massive logs from the point of felling to the river, where they would be transported to mills from Utsalady, on Camano island, eventually upriver as far as Lyman.

      Except for early government reports, the local sources of information on the finding of the coal deposits up the Skagit River are sketchy, so we lean heaving on [the 1906 book, Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties.]
      In 1874, three prospectors, Amasa Everett, Orlando Graham and Lafayette S. Stevens, through information gained from an Indian, discovered the veins of coal across the Skagit River from Hamilton. We quote:

      In the meantime, James O'Laughlin and James J. Conner were added to the company, which filed upon 160 acres of coal land. In 1875, finding reason to believe that the mines were worthy of the investment of capital, the partners with a force of laborers, sunk a shaft a hundred feet in depth by which they took out 20 tons of coal, which they shipped to San Francisco.
      They made a number of improvements of permanent value in connection with this. However, they were obliged to transport their coal in canoes to the head of the big jam (at Mount Vernon). There they cut a road through he forest two miles in extent around it, then loaded the coal upon the steamer Chehalis, which come up for that purpose.
      This coal mine remained comparatively undeveloped through lcak of capital for two years, and then Conner, having secured additional resources, pushed it successfully for a number of years ultimately selling or bonding to San Francisco parties under the name of the Skagit-Cumberland Coal Company.
      The Northern Star (a Snohomish County paper) of Dec. 16, 1876, gives an interesting account of the original discovery of the coal mines by Messrs. Everett, Stevens and Graham, already described, and goes on to prophesy that when a prosperous town is built up in that vicinity with iron furnaces, machine shops, etc. a railroad may join the belts between the Skagit, Stillaguamish and Snohomish.
      At that time there had been three claims located on the coal regions, the Skagit, Cascade and the New Cumberland. The coal has been thoroughly tested and found to be of the finest quality, but pending the removal of the big jam it was not profitable to work the veins.
      The Skagit mine was situated on the east face of the mountain directly above the Hatshadadish (this appears to be the present Cumberland Creek) and within a mile of the landing. The coal vein dipped at an angle of 60 degrees.
      Three shafts at this time had been sunk, 70, 25 and 20 feet deep, respectively, with an entrance 120 feet above the bed of the creek. Seven strata of coal had been uncovered , each running from two to eight feet in thickness.
      The Cascade lay from one-fourth to one-half mile from the tunnels of the Skagit claim and the entrance to it was 350 feet above the level of the river.
      Four veins had been uncovered, dipping at an angle of 12 degrees. Two tunnels had at that time been driven, one 70 and one 76 feet in length. The principal vein here was six feet thick and pure, solid coal.
      The New Cumberland, divided from the others by Loretta Creek, was opened by a tunnel 150 feet long, and the coal was found to be of a quantity equal to the best for coking, forging and mechanical work. . . .
      C.S. Torkelson of Tacoma was at that time interested with a number of English capitalist in investigating these mines and in projecting railway connection between them and Ship Harbor (Anacortes). A fine quality of limestone is also mentioned."

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      A mining engineer's report of June 1, 1889 states:
      That at Conner's on the Skagit River there are three measures of bituminous coal whicha re upon the same line passing through Nanaimo, B.C., and belonging to the cretaceous epoch, being a first-class bituminous coal. . . .
      Below the coal measures, the report continues, are iron measures of a good quality of brown hematite iron ore from 45 to 50 per cent of metallic iron. . . .
      The [J.J.] Conner mine was subsequently bonded by the Skagit-Cumberland Coal company of San Francisco, which sent W.A. Jones about the first of May to enter upon the work of development on a large scale.
      He built at once a flume 600 feet long with a 75-foot head carrying a volume of water sufficient to fill a 30-inch pipe, which carried the water from the head to the "Knight" wheel of the compressor. The compressor was sufficiently large to furnish 450 horsepower. by which the manager expected to run three 3 1/2-inch Rix & Furth drills.
      The steamer Bailey delivered three loads of machinery which they at once began to use in the sinking of a tunnel 3,000 feet ddep. The supply of coal lay in such a position that it could be very cheaply and rapidly brought to the surface and placed within reach of transportation.
      For some reason, however, the Cumberland Coal Company did not remain permanently in the business of developing these properties, and they have been idle for many years.

      The coal mine at Sehome (now a part of Bellingham) was for many years in the early days the leading industry and of immense economic value to that community.
      As capital developed, business interests in that city hadn't forgotten that page in history and spurred the first railroad into Skagit county headed for, among other resources, the coal deposits at Cokedale northeast of Sedro-Woolley. In this they were successful, but the coal and iron lying undeveloped at Hamilton seems to have attracted no unusual attention until recently. Klahowya.

(Henry Bailey)
The Henry Bailey

Journal editor note:
      This is one of those rare moments that we who are following earlier historians most treasure: a chance to collaborate, separated by decades. Like with Murray Morgan, I love to explore the same forest that Ray Jordan has. Almost a decade ago, I profiled Messrs. Everett, Stevens and Graham and their 1874 discovery of the coal that Ray referenced above. This is one of those serendipitous moments where our respective views on this seminal event complement each other. Ray, as usual, researched well in the days before computers, the Internet and cell phones. You can read our earlier introduction to the coal strikes here and follow links to several other coal stories. As we point out in our various presentations, the big money was most interested in Skagit county in the late-19th century boom period, before the Depression, because of coal, more than gold, logs or railroads, unless they helped transport coal.

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted September 15, 2011.
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This article originally appeared in Issue 57 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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